J.R. Smith had a 16-year NBA career that included two championships and a Sixth Man of the Year Award, and now he's headed back to school with his sights set on becoming a student-athlete.
Smith, 35, is enrolling at HBCU North Carolina A&T State University with plans to join the Aggies' golf team while pursuing a liberal studies degree. He's awaiting the NCAA to grant him eligibility. Smith went straight from high school to the NBA in '04 and NCAA rules state "an individual shall not be eligible for intercollegiate athletics in a sport if the individual ever competed on a professional team in that sport."
Smith said when he decided to skip college and turn professional 17 years ago, he was told he could go back to school whenever. "Whenever" finally came when NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen convinced him to receive a college education.
"Ray Allen kind of convinced me," Smith told reporters Wednesday at the Wyndham Championship. "We had a little golf trip in [the Dominican Republic] and he was talking about some of the things he was doing, about going back to school and challenging yourself for us athletes. I really took heed to it and decided to go back - and one of the best liberal studies programs is at A&T."
Smith, a 5 handicap, has been seen at numerous PGA Tour events throughout his career and said he first started playing golf 12 years ago at the late NBA Hall of Famer Moses Malone's charity event.
“Golf is one of those games that has you feeling really high and or can bring you down to your knees and humble you,” Smith said. “And to have that feeling and knowing that all of the game’s pretty much on my own hands and I don’t have to worry about teammates to pass the ball and receiving passes and playing defense so, I can play my game and just have fun.”
Richard Watkins, North Carolina A&T State University's men's and women's golf coach, is looking forward to potentially coaching Smith.
“It's a big deal for A&T. It's a big deal for him,” Watkins said to PGATour.com. “It's not very often that somebody in his position really has an opportunity to have a thought, a dream, an idea, and to be able to go ahead and move in that direction."
Some might look forward to downtime after their playing days, but Smith is ready for his new journey as a student-athlete-parent with his family of five joining him in Greensboro, North Carolina, as he starts classes on Aug. 18.
“I’ve got no free time now,” Smith said. “Raising kids and going to school, my schedule will be full. I can't wait to be a part of the HBCU family."